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The Future of Freedom (2003)

by Fareed Zakaria

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1,132614,841 (3.87)4
Translated into twenty languages--The Future of Freedom--is a modern classic that uses historical analysis to shed light on the present, examining how democracy has changed our politics, economies, and social relations. Prescient in laying out the distinction between democracy and liberty, the book contains a new afterword on the United States's occupation of Iraq and a wide-ranging update of the book's themes.… (more)

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Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and a frequent TV personality who has written a political science book called The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (©2003). The book has several things going in its favor. It has an index, notes and appears to try to bring in new published ideas into the arena of democratic political theory. It is not a strict expose of political theory in the classical sense and it is not a new voice making an original claim. It is a hybrid of both and that is one of the good things about the book. It keeps your attention, if only to see where he will go. But, he doesn’t go far.
The basic idea substantiating the book is that an economic middle class must exist and support a democracy lest it devolve into either tyranny or chaos. He does not delve into the chaos nor tyranny alternative too much other than to refer to Hitler or some Middle Eastern strongmen. He gives a short history of the Freedom starting with Constantine in Chapter 1, “the Christian Church is, in my view, the first important source of liberty in the West—and hence the world. It is highlights the central theme of this chapter, which is that liberty came to the West centuries before democracy. Liberty led to democracy and not the other way around”. Zakaria says that a strong middle class must allow itself to be taxed and therefore hold the upper class accountable to service the needs of all the populace. This is a simple idea (of societal legitimacy), which he supports with some recent historical examples.
Although he lives in New York City (jacket blurb), he presumes to know enough about California to say that it currently has the future of where American democracy may already become illiberal, meaning chaotic and illegitimate. He says that private money has replaced the traditional party system ‘of elders’ and inaugurated a state initiative process of referendums. He refers to state initiatives as ‘direct democracy,’ which they are definitely not. He says that Californians have emasculated their elected leaders by these initiatives but are shocked that they (state politicians) can do so little about the state’s problems (p. 195). What Zakaria hadn’t bothered to figure out is that the state is now run buy one party who themselves orchestrate new ballot initiatives to solidify their grasp of elected governance by imposing new debt on everyone. In the end, Zakaria resorts to duplicity to salvage his government of the elected, for the elected. He says that certain government positions have to be insulated from removal despite calls from the non-governmental population and other amateurs criticisms’. A few special people have to govern even if it displeases those governed because they see the long-term decisions necessary and not the short-term expedients. He calls this the “Less is More” democratic solution. This of course completely contradicts his main thesis about democracy, but is very Ivy League. I appreciated this touch very much. In classical political thought this is called the Noble Lie of Plato although Plato may have been proposing it as a failed idea. Zakaria proposes it as a virtue of advanced democracy. Even more advanced than Californians now are!
Zakaria says that Democracy in the West has taken centuries and that to push Asian or Middle Easterners too fast would be wrong and force them into illiberalism. Zakaria did not mention anything about the US military and its citizen soldiers. Our democracy is inextricably linked with these men and women. Zakaria’s presentation is great for politicians and aspiring politicians but weak on the reality of actual nation building along with the sacrifices necessary to produce it. Being taxed is not the greatest sacrifice one can make in a democratic nation. He assumes that the ‘power struggles’ which result in democracy as being internal and non-violent, basically political. Our country’s major interventions have been external and often times violent. One does not have to be a warmonger to understand US history and this historical aspect. Zakaria may be a naturalized US citizen, I don’t know.
Overall, this is not a very intellectually rigorous work. It need not be. It seems to be compare very well with other journalists and theorists who don’t have his breadth of ideas. This is a good resource if Zakaria ever taught a course and needed supplemental reading for the course syllabus. Except for Peter Jennings, all the people who wrote blurbs for the book jacket are favorably referred to in the book, hence the publishing value of a good name index.
  sacredheart25 | Nov 11, 2013 |
Hind sight is much easier than foresight, so I tried to read beyond that and current political views, and enjoyed at least the first ½ to 2/3rds of the book very much. He makes a valiant and worthy effort in trying to bring to terms the unrelated terms of Freedom and Democracy, yet like so many falls back into the trap of proceeding on the assumption of one necessitating the other. He meets the other ultimate trap of assuming Democracy was designed to give us a nest of security, safety and be stability. When in fact it is just the opposite, our Republican Democracy was created to maintain our freedom, allow us to use our wings and to be a constantly changing order, to adapt to a constantly changing world, in fact to encourage it. One must remember Freedom is not free, it is a constant effort to find and maintain, stagnation is it’s greatest enemy. I often revert to this sightless insight: Security is mostly superstition; it does not exist in nature. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. – Helen Keller ( )
  Newmans2001 | Mar 16, 2011 |
very informative -- wish I had read the book when it first came out. am motivated to read his update. I found the last third of the book the most interesting when Zakaria goes into detail about how too much democracy might not necessarily be a good thing -- example = California, and how the state has put itself in difficult financial positions through voter decisions.
Good book. ( )
  fyi715 | Aug 17, 2009 |
In this book, Mr. Zakaria differentiates between Liberal and Illiberal Democracies. The main idea is that taking free elections as the only aspect of democracy results in catastrophic results as in the case of Nazi Germany or Hamas in Gaza.
Instead, he says that liberal democracy, which implies individual rights, rule of law, separation of powers and free elections are essential requirements to have a successful state.
I found this book very interesting and the author's ideas clear and thought provoking. I think I'll look forward to reading more by Mr. Zakaria. ( )
2 vote dezert | Apr 24, 2009 |
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Translated into twenty languages--The Future of Freedom--is a modern classic that uses historical analysis to shed light on the present, examining how democracy has changed our politics, economies, and social relations. Prescient in laying out the distinction between democracy and liberty, the book contains a new afterword on the United States's occupation of Iraq and a wide-ranging update of the book's themes.

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